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Pennsylvania Crimes: Laws & Penalties

Understanding Pennsylvania Crimes: Laws, Penalties & What to Do If Charged

The Basics: How Pennsylvania Classifies Crimes

In Pennsylvania, criminal offenses are divided into two main buckets:

  1. Felonies – The most serious crimes, like murder, rape, and major drug offenses. Felonies carry the stiffest penalties, including lengthy prison sentences and hefty fines.
  2. Misdemeanors – Less severe offenses, such as simple assault, petty theft, and first-time DUIs. Misdemeanors usually mean shorter jail terms and smaller fines compared to felonies.

There’s also a third category called “summary offenses” – these are minor violations, like disorderly conduct or traffic tickets. Summary offenses are the least serious and are handled more like citations than criminal cases.

Felony Degrees in PA

Pennsylvania further breaks down felonies into three degrees:

  • First-Degree Felonies (F1): The most severe, like rape and aggravated assault causing serious injury. Penalties go up to 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
  • Second-Degree Felonies (F2): One step down, including crimes like burglary and sexual assault. You could face up to 10 years behind bars and a $25,000 fine.
  • Third-Degree Felonies (F3): The “least serious” felonies, such as carrying a firearm without a license. Still, an F3 can land you in prison for up to 7 years with a $15,000 fine.

Misdemeanor Classifications

Just like felonies, misdemeanors are categorized by degrees:

  • First-Degree Misdemeanors (M1): The most serious type, like stalking or possessing an instrument of crime. M1s are punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
  • Second-Degree Misdemeanors (M2): Mid-level offenses, including simple assault and shoplifting items worth $200+. The max penalty is 2 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
  • Third-Degree Misdemeanors (M3): The least severe, covering crimes like disorderly conduct and loitering. You could face up to 1 year in jail and a $2,500 fine for an M3.

Common Crimes & Their Penalties in Pennsylvania

Now that you‘ve got a handle on how PA classifies crimes, let‘s look at some specific offenses and the potential consequences.

Drug Crimes

In Pennsylvania, drug crimes are a big deal. Penalties depend on factors like the type and amount of drug, plus any prior convictions. Here are a few examples:

  • Possession of a Controlled Substance (Marijuana): For 30 grams or less, it’s a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Over 30 grams bumps it up to a misdemeanor with 1 year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
  • Possession with Intent to Deliver (PWID) Cocaine: This is an ungraded felony. For under 2 grams, you could face up to 1 year in prison and a $5,000 fine. Between 2-10 grams, it’s 3 years and $15,000. Over 10 grams? You’re looking at 5 years and $25,000.

Theft & Property Crimes

Pennsylvania bases theft penalties mainly on the value of the stolen property:

Christine Twomey
Christine Twomey
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Brendan huisman
Brendan huisman
Alex Zhik contacted me almost immediately when I reached out to Spodek for a consultation and was able to effectively communicate the path forward/consequences of my legal issue. I immediately agreed to hire Alex for his services and did not regret my choice. He was able to cover my case in court (with 1 day notice) and not only was he able to push my case down, he carefully negotiated a dismissal of the charge altogether. I highly recommend Spodek, and more specifically, Alex Zhik for all of your legal issues. Thanks guys!
Guerline Menard
Guerline Menard
Thanks again Spodek law firm, particularly Esq Claire Banks who stood right there with us up to the finish line. Attached photos taken right outside of the court building and the smile on our faces represented victory, a breath of fresh air and satisfaction. We are very happy that this is over and we can move on with our lives. Thanks Spodek law 🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼🙌🏼❤️
Keisha Parris
Keisha Parris
Believe every single review here about Alex Z!! From our initial consultation, it was evident that Alex possessed a profound understanding of criminal law and a fierce dedication to his clients rights. Throughout the entirety of my case, Alex exhibited unparalleled professionalism and unwavering commitment. What sets Alex apart is not only his legal expertise but also his genuine compassion for his clients. He took the time to thoroughly explain my case, alleviating any concerns I had along the way. His exact words were “I’m not worried about it”. His unwavering support and guidance were invaluable throughout the entire process. I am immensely grateful for Alex's exceptional legal representation and wholeheartedly recommend his services to anyone in need of a skilled criminal defense attorney. Alex Z is not just a lawyer; he is a beacon of hope for those navigating the complexities of the legal system. If you find yourself in need of a dedicated and competent legal advocate, look no further than Alex Z.
Taïko Beauty
Taïko Beauty
I don’t know where to start, I can write a novel about this firm, but one thing I will say is that having my best interest was their main priority since the beginning of my case which was back in Winter 2019. Miss Claire Banks, one of the best Attorneys in the firm represented me very well and was very professional, respectful, and truthful. Not once did she leave me in the dark, in fact she presented all options and routes that could possibly be considered for my case and she reinsured me that no matter what I decided to do, her and the team will have my back and that’s exactly what happened. Not only will I be liberated from this case, also, I will enjoy my freedom and continue to be a mother to my first born son and will have no restrictions with accomplishing my goals in life. Now that’s what I call victory!! I thank the Lord, My mother, Claire, and the Spodek team for standing by me and fighting with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am to have the opportunity to work with this team. I’m very satisfied, very pleased with their performance, their hard work, and their diligence. Thank you team!
Anthony Williams
Anthony Williams
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Loveth Okpedo
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divesh patel
I can't recommend Alex Zhik and Spodek Law Firm highly enough for their exceptional legal representation and personal mentorship. From the moment I engaged their services in October 2022, Alex took the time to understand my case thoroughly and provided guidance every step of the way. Alex's dedication to my case went above and beyond my expectations. His expertise, attention to detail, and commitment to achieving the best possible outcome were evident throughout the entire process. He took the time to mentor me, ensuring I understood the legal complexities involved to make informed decisions. Alex is the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with and has made a meaningful impact on me. I also want to acknowledge Todd Spodek, the leader of the firm, who played a crucial role in my case. His leadership and support bolstered the efforts of Alex, and his involvement highlighted the firm's commitment to excellence. Thanks to Alex Zhik and Todd Spodek, I achieved the outcome I desired, and I am incredibly grateful for their professionalism, expertise, and genuine care. If you're in need of legal representation, look no further than this outstanding team.
  • Under $50: Summary offense, up to 90 days in jail and a $300 fine.
  • $50-$199.99: M3, up to 1 year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
  • $200-$2,000: M1, up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
  • Over $2,000: F3, up to 7 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Assault & Violent Crimes

Assault charges in PA range from minor scuffles to serious attacks:

  • Simple Assault: An M2, punishable by up to 2 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. If it’s a fight entered into by mutual consent, it drops to an M3.
  • Aggravated Assault: Causing or attempting to cause serious bodily injury. It’s an F1, with up to 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

DUI Offenses

Pennsylvania’s DUI laws are tough, with penalties increasing for higher blood alcohol content (BAC) and repeat offenses. A few key points:

  • General Impairment (.08-.099 BAC): For a 1st offense, it’s a misdemeanor with up to 6 months probation, a $300 fine, and alcohol highway safety school.
  • High BAC (.10-.159): Also a misdemeanor, but a 1st offense means 48 hours to 6 months in jail, a $500-$5,000 fine, and a 12-month license suspension.
  • Highest BAC (.16+): Still a misdemeanor, but 1st-timers face 72 hours to 6 months in jail, a $1,000-$5,000 fine, and a 12-month license suspension.

What to Do If You’re Charged with a Crime in PA

Alright, so what if you or a loved one is actually facing criminal charges in Pennsylvania? Here’s your game plan:

1. Understand Your Charges

Get crystal clear on exactly what you’re being charged with and whether it‘s a summary offense, misdemeanor, or felony. Your paperwork should spell this out, but don’t hesitate to ask questions if you’re unsure.

2. Lawyer Up

I can’t stress this enough – get yourself a good criminal defense attorney, pronto. Look for someone experienced in Pennsylvania law who routinely handles cases like yours. A skilled lawyer can make all the difference in getting your charges reduced or even dismissed.

3. Understand the Court Process

Criminal cases in Pennsylvania typically follow these steps:

  1. Preliminary Arraignment: You’ll appear before a judge who will formally read your charges and set bail.
  2. Preliminary Hearing: The prosecution presents evidence to establish probable cause. If the judge finds sufficient evidence, your case moves forward to trial.
  3. Formal Arraignment: You enter a plea (guilty, not guilty, or no contest), and the judge sets a trial date.
  4. Pre-Trial Motions: Your lawyer may file motions to suppress evidence or dismiss charges.
  5. Trial: You’ll have a bench trial (before a judge) or jury trial. The prosecution must prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
  6. Sentencing: If convicted, the judge will hand down your sentence based on Pennsylvania’s sentencing guidelines.

Your attorney will guide you through each stage and work to get you the best possible outcome. Remember, you have constitutional rights throughout this process, like the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Use them!

4. Consider a Plea Deal

In many cases, your lawyer may be able to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor. This is where you agree to plead guilty, usually to a lesser charge, in exchange for a more lenient sentence. Plea deals can be a good option if the evidence against you is strong and you‘re likely to be convicted at trial. Of course, whether to accept a plea is a highly personal decision that depends on your unique circumstances. Your attorney can advise you on the pros and cons, but ultimately, it’s up to you.

5. Cooperate with Your Lawyer

Your attorney is your advocate, so be open and honest with them about your case. Share any evidence or witnesses that could help your defense. If you’re struggling to understand something, don‘t be afraid to ask questions. The more your lawyer knows, the better they can fight for you.

6. Take Care of Yourself

Facing criminal charges is incredibly stressful, so prioritize your mental and physical health. Lean on your support system, whether that’s family, friends, or a therapist. If you’re battling addiction or other personal challenges, seek help from professionals or support groups. Remember, an arrest or criminal charge doesn‘t define you. Stay focused on making positive changes in your life, regardless of the outcome of your case.

Frequently Asked Questions

Before we wrap up, let’s tackle some common questions about Pennsylvania criminal law.

Q: What’s the statute of limitations for criminal charges in PA?

A: It depends on the offense. For minor crimes, it’s usually 2 years from the date of the offense. Misdemeanors generally have a 2-5 year statute of limitations, while felonies are typically 5 years or more. Some serious crimes, like murder, have no time limit.

Q: Can I expunge my criminal record in Pennsylvania?

A: In many cases, yes! If you were convicted of a summary offense or misdemeanor and have stayed out of trouble for a certain period (usually 5-10 years), you may be eligible for expungement. Felony convictions are tougher to expunge, but it’s sometimes possible if you‘re over 70 or the offender has been dead for 3+ years.

Q: What’s the difference between probation and parole in PA?

A: Probation is a type of sentence where you’re allowed to stay in the community under court supervision instead of going to jail. Parole is when you‘re released from prison early but remain under supervision. Both usually come with conditions like regular check-ins, drug tests, and travel restrictions.

Q: How do I find out if someone has a criminal record in Pennsylvania?

A: Pennsylvania criminal records are public, so you can request them from the Pennsylvania State Police Central Repository. The easiest way is to use their online criminal history background check system. Keep in mind, some records (like juvenile cases) may be sealed or expunged.

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